Q: At 62, I am way past my youthful belief in the "God" most humans believe in. My pragmatic nature makes it impossible for me to believe as most of the world does. Quite frankly, I'm jealous. I wish I could. In my mind, it would be akin to convincing myself to like the taste of broccoli, even when I don't. How do you "make yourself" believe in something you just don't believe in? My father said it's a matter of faith. I cannot get my head around having faith in a concept such as God. We are but a tiny speck of dust in a universe so vast, the word speck is inadequate to describe our minute nature. Our existence came into being and will exit existence in a time frame as small as our physical stature. How impossible — and even arrogant — it is that we can suggest with such certainty God exists. I don't say this to argue or to tell anyone they are wrong. I respect others' faith. I can't figure out why I am so stubborn as to eschew something that will likely bring me a lifetime of joy. I just don't know how to get past my own inability to accept. While it's impossible for me to get past the logic, I still yearn for what so many others have. I want that peace. I want the comfort, and yes, I wouldn't mind fitting in. I am not the type to accept what I don't see, and I simply don't understand how anyone can make themselves like broccoli when they just don't. Thank you. — E in Texas
A: My first answer to the many people who write to me with their inability to believe in God is to ask, "What do you mean by God?" They then tell me that God is the big man in the sky who punishes us when we sin and rewards us when we do right. They proceed to tell me about all the good people who never got rewarded and all the evil people who never got punished. They usually throw in the suffering caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and diseases. They add in the wars caused by religion and then sit back and fold their arms and wait for me to pull a God/rabbit out of a theological hat.
My response is to explain that the God in which they do not believe is more like Santa Claus than God. I don't believe in Santa (though I really like Rudolph), and I don't believe in a Santa God. Such a God is for children, not adults. Such a God cannot get us to do the right thing without threatening us with eternal damnation if we don't. As we grow into adulthood and a mature theology of God, we can learn to embrace the true idea that is taught by all religions and secular philosophy — that the reason to do the right thing is because it is the right thing, and the reason to avoid evil is because it is evil. Whether good comes to us from the good we do and whether suffering comes to us from the evil we do is absolutely irrelevant to God or God's law for our lives. God reveals to us the path of righteousness, and we walk down that path because we seek to live righteous lives. Knowing that this path and its ethical laws come from God is sure proof that God exists.
Then there is the way the world works. The way life has an edge in the universe and the way that all the physical laws of the universe work the same is an awe-inspiring truth that God's creation has made possible. Of course, the fine-tuned workings of our bodies and the physical world could be the result of randomness, but is that a truly plausible possibility? Einstein said in response to observing the physical world, "Could so great a symphony have no conductor?" He remarked as a result of the laws of physics he observed, "God does not play dice with the universe." I agree with Al.
Your proto-atheism is different from the suffering-of-the-righteous-people's atheism. Your theological problem with God seems to be rooted not so much in the problem of theodicy, the suffering of the righteous, but more in the vast incommensurability between our smallness and God's greatness. I believe we are made in the image of God and that is plenty big enough for me.
Keep trying to find God and someday God will find you.